Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Touch Of The Ol' Sod Would Be Nice

I was driving on Route 20 the other day when my mind flashed back to a time when I was flying down a highway in Ireland. That Irish highway began to shrink. The lanes were actually converging from a multilane modern highway to a two lane road. At the beginning of the two lane road was a small four to five foot tall yellow kiosk warning of the road narrowing for the next few kilometers.

I was beyond puzzled, but as I drove on I found the reason: the road was going through a small Irish village with little room to handle a multi lane highway. The essence of the town would have been destroyed for one, and the other reason there simply was not enough room to make it work for the houses , shops and businesses along the road. Once through the town, the roadway widened again to its former multilane self.

I found this road set-up in several places in Ireland, and I have to say that looking back on it now with what I've learned since then, it is a great idea.

Many years ago, Route 20 was a main highway from east to west and back again. From Boston to the Pacific Ocean the road ran uninterrupted. Today, it merely augments the Mass Pike, but serves as the main roadway into all the towns hanging onto the southern border of the Pike. It still is an important roadway. Over the years the road has been made safer, wider, and more traffic signals installed. The history of so many fatalities on the road made updating it imperative, but, there is something I don't quite understand.

Why was Route 20 widened to four lanes all the way to Cedar Street? At the time it may have been a good idea. Increased traffic during the Brimfield Flea Market times, or to better handle local tourist traffic may have been a couple of the reasons, but why not just wean it down to two lanes at Route 131, and pick it up to four lanes again where it changes now near the Sturbridge / Brimfield line? Why this four lane monstrosity through town with a median strip, guardrails and jug handle turns?

Just seems like it is a design that came from some the desks of some highway design interns in the 1980's, and they over designed it to get a passing grade. Not much thought went into esthetics's, and functionality in conjunction with local businesses.

What if the road was redesigned and returned to two lanes in this area? There would be additional land available for street side parking, landscaping, tree planting. Would the roadway, and the surrounding structures begin to take on that small village look that has been gone for so long, and would it have a positive impact on the businesses that line the road?


A tall order changing a roadway from four lanes back to two, but just may be one of those things that deserves some further thought. It may be a total looser of an idea in the long run, but since I have heard this mentioned by others in town since I arrived eight years ago, there may be some merit to it.

The system seems to work well in Ireland, there is no reason that it could not work well here as well.

Alas, sometimes thinking out loud is more like daydreaming.


  1. When I moved here, Route 20, between 131 and Cedar Street, was two lanes. The idea of changing to 4 lanes must have come from someone who didn’t have vision beyond the subject of traffic flow. For the commercial tourist district to thrive it HAS to be pedestrian friendly. It's okay to learn from mistakes, we should consider that this change to four lanes was a mistake and one worth fixing. While the four lanes may allow the traffic to flow better, the impact this change had on pedestrian traffic is obvious. The idea recently brought forward to consider changing back to two lanes in this area, adding street parking on the South side of Route 20, and adding a median with grass, trees, and seasonal flowers is one worth strong consideration. Adding brick crosswalks along Route 20 would help drivers remember that if they want to support a commercial tourist district they need to share space with pedestrians. Traffic flow seemed to be the top priority when the State designed four lanes, is that our top priority? If tax revenue and a strong commercial tourist district is our priority maybe we need to look into what course we could take to improve this area and create an attractive gateway to Sturbridge.

  2. It is a great idea, but one that would take a great deal of commitment and energy to see through, especially in these hard economic times, but well worth pursuing. Little bit, by little bit it would get done if their was enough positive support. Un-building a road is something that has been done before, and well worth it if the results are as described. Has the town brought this up in any meetings? What is the consensus of opinion?


Anonymous comments not accepted, and will be rejected. Please use your full name. Choose "Name / URL" and enter your name, and your name ONLY. Leave "URL" blank.